The impacts of vincristine on testicular development and function in childhood cancer

Ioanna Clark, Mark Brougham, Norah Spears, Rod Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing childhood cancer survival rates in recent decades have led to an increased focus on fertility as a long-term complication of cancer treatment. Male childhood cancer survivors often face compromised testicular function as a late effect of chemotherapy exposure, with no well-established options to prevent such damage and subsequent infertility. Despite vincristine being considered to be associated with low-gonadotoxic potential, in prepubertal rodents, it was recently shown to result in morphological alterations of the testis and in severely impaired fertility.

This systematic review aimed to evaluate the effects of vincristine-containing regimens on human prepubertal testis with reference to testicular function and fertility in adulthood.

The systematic search of the literature was conducted according to PRISMA guidelines, and the study was registered with PROSPERO. PubMed and Scopus were searched for articles published in English between 01 January 1900 and 05 March 2021, with the search including ‘chemotherapy’, ‘vincristine’, ‘prepubertal’, ‘testis’, ‘spermatogenesis’ and related terms. Abstracts and full-text articles were screened and selected for, providing they met the inclusion criteria (≤12 years at treatment, exposure to vincristine-containing regimens and long-term fertility outcomes). Additional studies were identified via bibliography screening. Bias evaluation across included studies was conducted using the ROBINS-I tool, subdivided into assessment for confounding, participant selection, intervention classification, missing data, outcome measurements and selection of reported results.

Our initial search identified 288 articles of which 24 (8%; n = 7134 males) met all inclusion criteria. Control groups were included for 9/24 (38%) studies and 4/24 (17%) studies provided sub-analysis of the relative gonadotoxicity of vincristine-based agents. Primary outcome measures were: fertility and parenthood; semen analysis (World Health Organization criteria); and hormonal function and testicular volume. For the studies that performed vincristine sub-analysis, none reported negative associations with vincristine for the potential of siring a pregnancy, including the largest (n = 6224; hazard ratio = 0.56) controlled study. For semen analysis, no significant difference versus healthy controls was illustrated for mitotic inhibitors (including vincristine) following sub-analysis in one study (n = 143). For hormone analysis, a single study did not find significant impacts on spermatogenesis attributed to vincristine based on levels of FSH and semen analysis, which meant that its administration was unlikely to be responsible for the diminished testicular reserve; however, most of the studies were based on low numbers of patients receiving vincristine-containing chemotherapy. Analysis of bias demonstrated that studies which included vincristine exposure sub-analysis had a lower risk of bias when compared with cohorts which did not.

In contrast to recent findings in rodent studies, the limited number of clinical studies do not indicate gonadotoxic effects of vincristine following prepubertal exposure. However, given the relative lack of data from studies with vincristine sub-analysis, experimental studies involving vincristine exposure using human testicular tissues are warranted. Results from such studies could better inform paediatric cancer patients about their future fertility and eligibility for fertility preservation before initiation of treatment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Reproduction Update
Early online date10 Dec 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


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